I must have been a really ugly child.† I was raised Roman Catholic, and served as an altar boy for several years.† Yet I was never molested by a priest, not once.† It made me feel like a drunken girl that canít get picked up at a bar.† At least I was able to grow out of that and successfully get a girlfriend by the time I was in high school, but that is another story.
Growing up, I would like to say that I had fond memories of the pleasant times I spent in the church, the comfort it gave me, and the joy I felt in serving the Lord assisting the priests saying mass.† Iíd like to, but I canít.† What I remember of church was sitting there, being bored every Saturday evening.† My parents were (and still are) faithful church goers, but they didnít like the hustle to try and get up on Sunday mornings, so they took advantage of the Saturday evening mass instead.† What better way for a teenage boy to spend his Saturday nights than in church?† Sure it only lasted an hour, but it just doesnít set the proper tone for an evening of debauchery and depravity that a young teen is looking for before heading out on the town.
Serving at mass wasnít all that bad.† Sure the robes were silly looking, but we often got to help the priest finish off the sacramental wine and host afterward.† They werenít allowed to store it after it was blessed (having, of course, undergone the daily miracle and become the body and blood of Christ), nor could they just throw it out.† Jus think, how would that look on when you are at the pearly gates, facing St. Peter, and he notes in his big book, ďThrew out the Body of Christ, and flushed the Blood of Christ down the sink.† Yep, you are going straight to hell, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars.Ē† For a believer that would be a pretty unforgivable sin.† Of course, the miracle didnít do a real good job of taking the alcohol out of what used to be the wine, so it actually wasnít all that heinous of a job to help the priest consume it.††† Most of the altar boys even volunteered, hoping they would prepare too much.† I especially like the special occasions when instead of the wafers they had actual bread, it was always a sweet honey wheat flat bread, and the miracle of transubstantiation didnít do anything to hurt the flavor, even if you werenít supposed to chew it.
What I didnít like about serving mass was when my name came up, not for the month to serve Saturday evening mass, but for the week to serve morning mass.† What a way to start your day, by getting up in order to be at a 7:00 am mass, usually in the dead of the winter.† The only people there were a priest, a nun or two (back when there was still a convent with our church), one or two old folks, my Dad and I.† (and Dad was only there because I needed a ride.)† Those were never much fun.
Not everything I did with the church was quite so irreverent.† In fact, for about three years I was very heavily involved.† I was going through the confirmation classes, which had been extended to two years Ė pre-confirmation for sophomores and then confirmation for juniors.† I was elected as the youth representative to the church council, which gave me some insight to the inner workings of the corporeal functions of the church.† I actually ended up on the welcoming committee as well.† Imagine me, the ubergeek with no social skills, greeting new members of the church and making welcome visits to their homes.
Easter is a real big deal in the Catholic Church.† Our little parish was really expanding on their Easter services when I was a teenager as well.† When I was little I remember the standard masses for Easter, but not much else.† I actually got to play a major part in our churchís first Seder meal for Passover.† While we arenít Jewish, we did pay respect to those traditions, and had a big traditional meal, with the priest saying the fatherís part, a nun saying the motherís part, and I said the part of the oldest son.† And then, like all good Catholics, we had a huge pot luck dinner!
I also remember the first time I attended Good Friday services, for the adoration of the Cross.† I was there because I had to be as part of the pre-confirmation class.†† However seeing the boys in the confirmation class carry in a life size cross, and seeing the struggle that six or eight of them had to carry that thing, really had an impact on me.† The next year, I was one of them to help bring it in, though for some reason that didnít have the impact that it did seeing it the first time.† Maybe because later that year I found where they stored it (it wasnít hidden, just in back of one of the buildings) and that made it a little more real, and a little less holy.† Watching it being carried in, it was a symbol of our faith Ė seeing is next to the building on its side, it was simply two railroad ties (or similar pieces) connected together.
The year I was in confirmation was also when they set up a garden in the parish hall for the vigil.† On Good Friday, after the midday mass, then the church is stripped bare, and the sacrament is removed from the altar.† For the next day and a half the church is dead and empty, as a symbol of Christ in his tomb.† The host is moved to a separate place, where people can go to pray and meditate.† We had built a nice garden, to duplicate the one where Christ prayed after the last supper, and I spent a lot of time there that year, praying and thinking.† In fact, after all of that, the Easter services themselves seemed a bit anti-climatic.
My junior year of high school was pretty rough on me.† That was the time when I really tried to turn to my religion for help.† People are now starting to recognize that bullies are a serious problem, but back in the mid eighties Ė well it was just kids.† Teachers and parents either looked the other way, or ended up making things much worse.† I knew there was a problem; it was evident in the blood that I threw up every morning after Iíd eat breakfast, right before Iíd have to head off for school.† Iíd tried the old adage about standing up to the bullies Ė got my ass kicked for that one.† So I endured.† And for a year, I tried to turn to God for help.
For an entire year, I said the rosary every night.† For those who arenít Catholic, this is a set of prayers guided by beads.† You start at the end with a cross, and work your way up to the loop, around the loop, and back down.† Each single bead is the Lordís Prayer, for each group of beads you say a Hail Mary on each one.† This end up being, from what I can remember, 46 Hail Maryís and 7 Our Fatherís.† Every night before Iíd go to bed I did this, and prayed for deliverance, for it to stop.† Some people believe that prayers are answered.† If so, then the answer was no.† No help, no end to it.† In fact, if anything, the next year got worse, in different and subtle ways (however those details are for another chapter).
Some faithful would say that God gave me the strength to endure, and my response to that is not really printable.† Similar to when people have asked me how, after my divorce, I managed to raise four children by myself.† I did it because I didnít have any choice. †There were no alternatives.† You wake up, you do what you have to, and you go to sleep.† The hours of prayer didnít bring me comfort, it didnít help.† It did make me feel much more alone, and realize that there was no help, and all hope did was to increase the pain, by giving the illusion that there could be something better.†
In the myth of Pandoraís Box, it was hope that she contained back in the box, hope that was supposed to be the savior of mankind.† But do most people realize that hope was just one more of the evils contained in the box?† Hope is a weak point, a place where the evils of the world can penetrate your defenses.† Hope is a trap that makes a bad situation worse, and then is a crushing blow when it is taken away.† Better to have none, than to have it once and then have it taken away.† A world without hope, based in reality, with people instead working toward making themselves better based on what they can do seems to me a much better place.
That year I got confirmed, and was very active in the church.† The next, as a senior in high school, most of my beliefs came crashing down in the stark light of reality.† It was a sad state that the church was real good about supporting and bringing along the kids, to make them adults.† Once there however, well then it dropped us on our collective butts.† We tried to make a senior youth group, it was an absolute travesty.† I donít blame anyone for this, and donít even remember the names of anyone involved.
The senior youth group had two outings before it was stopped.† The trip cross country skiing was a pure joke, starting from when the chaperones stopped at a liquor store and asked what we wanted them to get us.† One of my biggest drunks ever, but again that is another story.
The other outing was much more significant, and I probably put much more meaning into it than it deserved, but then that is a lot of what religion is, giving meaning to lifeís events.† The parish owned a small camp, used for youth retreats (the confirmation and pre-confirmation classes, of course), and summer camp.† Six cabins for campers, a dining hall, an A-frame office/nurses station, and two railroad cars that were the counselorís quarters.† The summer camp was six weeks, broken into three age groups and by sex.† So during the girlís week a female counselor would sleep in each of the girlís cabins, and during the boyís week a male would.† In the alternate weeks they slept in their respective railroad cars.†† In addition, there was a nice outdoor chapel, with stumps for seats and an altar made of split logs.† I always loved that chapel, and I have never gotten the feelings in a church building the same way that I have in the woods.
For a service project, the senior group went up for a weekend to clean up and prepare the camp for winter.† There were three girls and a couple of boys.† It was a joke.† The girls were supposed to repaint the inside of the railroad cars.† They did, windows, doors, bunks, everything.† Then, because they were having such a good time vandalizing the place, they went and painted the chapel Ė all the stumps and the altar.† When I found the chapel, it felt like it had been desecrated.† This, at least to me, was no different than if they had gone and thrown paint around in the church back home, splashing it on the pews and on the altar.† When the pastor arrived Saturday night, I talked to him and told him I thought everyone should go home that night, but his Ďcalmerí head prevailed.
I guess the next weekend a group of adults went back up to clean up what the clean up crew had done, scraping the paint from the windows, and trying to fix what had been broken.† But the chapel, at least to me, would never again be the same.
Once I started college, I stopped attending mass.† I didnít see a point in it any more.† I like to say that I was a practicing Catholic for the first 19 years of my life, and then I finally got it right so that I didnít need to practice any more.† (I also claimed to have given up going to church for Lent.)† The more I learned about other beliefs, the more I questioned my own.† The more I learned, the less accepting I was of the answers I had been given before, and less I was willing to simply accept the paradoxes I saw in the teachings of the church.† I made it a point during college to read the entire bible, which I had not done before.† I could not reconcile the vindictive, jealous and evil God of the Old Testament, destroying anyone who did not accept his beliefs blindly, with the loving, kind God of the New Testament.† Jesus has some very valuable teachings, and he was killed for them.
And then there was one of the central pieces of Christianity, communion.† At best this is a symbolic ritual of cannibalism, and for the true believers it isnít even symbolic, but is the actual consumption of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, who, while the son of god is also expressly described as having given up his divinity while he became human.† Many cultures have beliefs about cannibalism, where consuming parts of others grants you some of their power, but I have never quite understood what the basis for this was.† Iíve read the gospels enough in my youth to know they never quite explain what was to be gained by the consumption of the savior.† The times now as an adult when I do attend a church service, I do not and will not take communion.† I donít believe in it, but I do respect the beliefs of others.
†Iím not an atheist, but I am agnostic.† I know that I donít believe in the doctrine of the Catholic Church, nor have I found any organized church yet that I do believe in.
I briefly attended the Mormon Church for a while in college, because my girlfriend was Mormon.† Of course, that stopped as soon as that relationship stopped.† And for a time my first wife and I were part of a Methodist Church and two of my kids were baptized there.† However even then I didnít feel truly comfortable and my youngest son has never been baptized.† That is one conflict that I havenít yet been able to reconcile; there is a part of me that doesnít like the fact he hasnít been baptized, though there isnít any church that I can think of where I would take him to have it happen.† I chalk it up to my upbringing, and someday I will have to reconcile it, especially with him.
My daughter has Ďdabbledí in religion a bit, having joined three separate churches in as many years.† I do not have a problem with this, and just want her to make sure that she truly understands what she is doing.† She also pushed us to say grace at the evening meal, which even though she has not been in the house for the past fifteen months, continues.† I have tried talking to the family about it, and the fact that they shouldnít do a ritual in which they did not believe, but the boys donít understand at this point, so I let them.† I believe they should find their own path, whatever that may be.
Much more recently, I have encountered some religions that are truly different.† Not just different factions of Christianity or even those that have similar roots such as Judaism or Islam.† I was very briefly exposed to the beliefs of a Pagan, and it was interesting how compelling they sounded.† But while I would have liked to be able to accept her beliefs, they were fantasy to me.† She truly believed in a world where other, older creatures existed, the gods visited their believers, and even dragons existed.†† I felt myself wishing that I could live in such a world, but knowing that I never would.